Education

University of Iowa settles long-running Old Capitol dome dispute

Deal recoups for UI half what it said repairs would cost

Work continues Oct. 27, 2016 on the dome of the Old Capitol Building on the University of Iowa's Pentacrest. After the UI accused contractors of faulty work on the dome, the parties settled before trial for $600,000. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Work continues Oct. 27, 2016 on the dome of the Old Capitol Building on the University of Iowa's Pentacrest. After the UI accused contractors of faulty work on the dome, the parties settled before trial for $600,000. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — After a bruising back-and-forth involving accusations of shoddy work and counterclaims of unfair tactics, the University of Iowa has reached a settlement with contractors it had hired years ago to reconstruct the campus’ famed Old Capitol dome.

The agreement nets the university payment from six contractors totaling $600,000. That is less than half the $1.3 million the UI in 2016 expected to spend redoing fixes to the dome, cupola and tower that had just been made following a devastating 2001 fire.

The fire broke out as contractors were removing old paint and asbestos from the dome. Fire, smoke and water damage forced the building to close nearly five years.

Shortly after the fire, the UI agreed in 2002 to pay $1.63 million to local contractor Knutson Construction Services Midwest to repair and improve the iconic edifice. Those repairs, which Knutson finished with the help of subcontractors, were supposed to be “permanent” in their betterment of the building and enhancement of its historic value.

But they weren’t, UI officials argued in a lawsuit filed in 2016 in Johnson County District Court. University officials argued they had discovered rampant deficiencies in the job, including inadequate connections and seams in the roof; rotting wood in the bell tower; structural shortcomings; and failed gilding on the lead-coated copper cladding on the dome. The UI later reported even more issues — from failed gold-leaf gilding and deteriorating siding to leaks in the copper roof and splits in wood framing.

According to the lawsuit, the university “expended considerable financial resources to investigate the condition of the Old Capitol and have spent resources to determine the cause of the deficiencies and necessary steps to correct the deficiencies.”

Officials found Knutson — as head of the project and its subcontractors — responsible for the defective work. The university, according to the lawsuit, “with reasonable certainty will incur additional damages in the future of an undetermined amount to repair or replace the defects caused by the conduct of the defendants.”

When asked how much it spent on the Old Capitol dome’s original reconstruction, how much it spent to fix the premature deterioration in 2016 and how much it has spent on the dome since, UI officials did not immediately know and said they would need to charge the charge The Gazette $570 to find out.

In a 2016 message from the UI Office of Strategic Communication, however, officials reported repairs would cost an estimated $1.3 million.

Knutson, in countering the claims, accused the UI of providing “defective plans and specifications” and of breach of contract. It also accused the university of obstructing its defense by refusing to let its attorneys on site to take photos, make measurements and secure samples “critical to Knutson’s ability to defend itself and to pursue claims against other potentially responsible parties.”

Knutson eventually did sue three subcontractors, one of which sued two of its subcontractors.

A trial was scheduled for October, until all the parties agreed to a settlement earlier this year, according to documents.

The settlement has Knutson paying the university $150,000, and the remaining five contract companies covering the balance of the $600,000.

All sides paid their own legal fees, and all the suits were dismissed.

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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